Family Trips Are Like Chili Peppers

by Abby on June 20, 2011

I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve decided that people who go on vacation with young children are like people who eat very spicy food. It’s not appealing to everyone, there are some tears and discomfort involved, but ultimately the pleasure outweighs the pain or nobody would do it.

Riley and Mom in Cape CodIf you were to ask a spicy-food fanatic if he enjoyed his grilled habanero peppers, what would he say? Is “delicious” a fitting adjective for a dish that makes your lips swell up, your cheeks flush, and the roof of your mouth blister? Similarly, if you asked me if our family vacation last week was fun, I might pause. Eventful, maybe. Enjoyable at times. But “fun”? Seven days of pre-dawn wakeup calls, sibling squabbles, and zero alone-time? Hmmm…

Certainly, spending time with our family in a beautiful place like Cape Cod was great. The scenery was spectacular, each beach more stunning and serene than the last. Seeing the pure delight on my sons’ faces as they splashed in the water, collected shells and crabs, and ate ice cream cones was worth every tantrum. But there were a lot of tantrums, let’s be clear.

Miles in Cape CodAs I noted last year, 4 was the golden age for my older son, and at 5 he’s even better. He can converse fluently in a language recognizable to other people, he sleeps well, he (mostly) eats well, and he can swim, so we don’t fear for his life anywhere there’s water deeper than a puddle.

But age 4 and under? Let’s just say I entertained fantasies of ditching my 2yo atop a lifeguard tower more than once. Toddler lifeguardPoor kid; it’s not his fault he’s 2. No, you can’t drive a lobster boat or throw my camera into the sea. Yes, you have to let me change your diaper and eat your dinner before you have ice cream.

Meals at restaurants turned into crayon-flinging, highchair-rocking, shrieking, sticky meltdowns. And 2 kids + 1 bedroom + no crib tent + irregular naps and bedtimes = a nightmare for everyone involved. At home we have to endure maybe 3-5 tantrums a week. On vacation, it was 3-5 times a day. Toddlers aren’t the most adaptable creatures.

At least I know it’s universal. Everywhere we went – every beach, every attraction, every street full of cute boutiques and bored kids strapped into strollers – there were misbehaving children and frazzled parents. I took comfort in this.

Vacationing with kids is a rite of passage, I guess. Just think how bored we’d be if we stayed home all the time. And in between meltdowns, you have some lovely family moments. The tears and the minor injuries are just part of the package. Hot pepper, anyone?

A kiss for DaddySHOUT OUT O’ THE DAY: Happy belated Father’s Day, dads! We couldn’t do it without you!

LAUGH O’ THE DAY: Riley referred to our vacation destination as “Cake Cod, Mac & chusetts.”

GAME O’ THE DAY: I invented a preschool version of “I Spy” that entertained us in the car – “I Spy: Rainbow Edition.” Each person takes turns spotting an object that’s red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Bonus points for indigo.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Lou Mello June 20, 2011 at 6:46 am

You nailed it, vacations with kids are only looked at fondly many years after the fact. You know while you’re in the moment that it’s really great that your family is getting to do this together, but, the actual fun, peaceful times are few and far between while you’re doing it.

I guess it’s just a rite of passage for parents and the only thing that may make it a bit fun is to at least once during the vacation to take the little rascals aside, look them straight in the eye and say “I hope your kids behave just like you do so you’ll get the satisfaction of going through all this craziness”.


Abby June 20, 2011 at 8:31 am

you’re right, Lou. Come to think of it, I HAVE noticed little smirks of satisfaction on my parents’ and in-laws’ faces…


Kim June 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

I love this post! Like Lou said “You nailed it!” Any disruption to routine throws my children, but then add to it a new “fun” environment and it becomes exhausting. I’ve realized why parents say they need a vacation after a vacation! I’m so glad you all survived it, and knowing that in just two years you’ll have a golden four year old hopefully helps 🙂


Abby June 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Thanks, Kim! Routine is so important for kids, I keep learning over and over.


Loukia June 20, 2011 at 11:04 am

I totally hear ya – travelling with young children is HARD and mommy and daddy totally need an ‘alone’ vacation when it’s over! This is why we decided not to go to Greece this summer – my five year old would have done great, but my three year old… not so much. We’ll wait till they are a little older. Now we just do yearly vacations to south Florida and to Bahamas… 3 hours is our max amount of time on planes with the kids for now! We’re off to Maine in a few weeks, but we’ll be driving… seven hours in the car! GULP!
Glad you had a nice vacation!


Abby June 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Wow, yeah. Greece would be tough with the long plane ride, time change, etc. I think it’s good to recognize your limits (and your kids’). Better to go in a couple years when everyone will enjoy it.


Angie Mizzell June 20, 2011 at 8:18 pm

At 2, Blake has entered the “escape” stage. I’ve never used one of those kid leashes, but I’ve given it a thought.

I’ve never been to Cape Cod and it sounds beautiful. But Cake Cod sounds even better. Speaking of kid language, today Blake insisted on holding the “too tights.” I finally figured out he was talking about the swim goggles because Dillon always says they are “too tight.”


Amanda June 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I’m a newbie mom and although I’ve heard how difficult it is, I’ve already booked our dream Disney mega vacation for my 1 yr old’s bday. It may be crazy to some, but the memories and moments of pure happiness and laughter from my little one will be well worth it. I’m ready for my ‘rite of passage’! Glad you enjoyed your vacation!!


Malia Jacobson June 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Wow, you’re scaring me–we leave for Maui next week with a 1yo and 4yo. We’ve avoided long vacations until now for the very reasons you describe. Planning our “working vacation” with the kids has made me realize that hubs and I definitely need a kids-free trip–you know, a REAL vacation–one of these days. I can dream, right? 🙂 And it sounds like our older kids are opposites–B was a delight at 2, but 4 has been a struggle. Definitely not a golden age. Maybe it’s a girl/boy thing.


Kathleen@so much to say June 21, 2011 at 9:27 am

We were talking about family vacations with my parents this weekend. When I was a kid we didn’t take our first family trip till I was ten years old. My youngest sister was three and of course, remembers nothing of that trip. We hesitate to take trips when the kids are too young to remember; why spend all that money and all that frustration without the kids remembering any of it? But as we wait for #4 now, we have to also weigh how long the oldest has to wait, because he IS old enough to get something out of it.

We figure it’ll probably be another two or three years before we start taking major trips. Please God, by that time I’ll only have one in diapers!!!


Chris June 21, 2011 at 9:36 am



Abby June 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I will say that while family trips aren’t exactly the carefree, relaxing vacations of yore, we have never regretted going on them. The pros always outweigh the cons and you always have plenty of good stories afterward!


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